walk of fame recipient Plaque 5

Reverend John Gregg Fee

  • Born September 9, 1816, to slaveholders John and Sarah Gregg Fee in Bracken County, Kentucky.
  • Graduated from Augusta College and attended Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati in 1842.
  • Developed religious and abolitionist principals at Lane Theological Seminary.
  •  Married Matilda Hamilton on September 16, 1844.
  • Formed antislavery churches in Bracken and Lewis Counties while working for the American Missionary Association.
  • Invited in 1854 by emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay to be pastor of several free churches in Madison County and received from Clay ten acres of land in Berea.
  • Split with Clay in 1856 over the Fugitive Slave Law, leaving him without Clay’s protection and threatened by mobs
  • Driven from Kentucky in 1859 by sixty planters and suffered the death of his  youngest child, who died of exposure on their flight from the Commonwealth.
  • Settled in Cincinnati but continued to raise money to further his dream of establishing a coeducational, interracial college in Berea.
  • Began missionary work at Camp Nelson in 1864, opening schools, a church, and a refugee camp for the women and children escaping slavery and for the families of black soldiers located at Camp Nelson.
  • Began school in Berea in l866 that by 1869 was known as Berea College, the only interracial and coeducational college in the South until 1904 when the Day Law banished interracial education in Kentucky.
  • Continued throughout his life to fight for racial equality in Berea and the rest of the United States and to promote both political and social equality for blacks.
  • Died January 11, 1901, and was buried in the Berea Cemetery. 

John Gregg Fee Biography

John Gregg Fee, the firstborn son of John and Sarah Gregg Fee, was born in Bracken County, Kentucky, on September 9, 1816. John Fee’s father was a land-owning slaveholder, while his mother was the daughter of Quakers. John was often in trouble for associating with and defending his father’s slaves. At age fourteen John decided to dedicate his life to God. His father converted to Christianity shortly after.

Fee received a degree from Augusta College and in 1842 enrolled at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, where he developed his religious and abolitionist principals. His father was extremely disturbed by John’s religious fervor and offered him money to go to Princeton if he would drop his religious pursuits, but he declined.

On September 16, 1844, John married Matilda Hamilton. He had known her and her mother for many years and thought her attractive in the qualities he was seeking in a mate, but his proposal had hinged on her conversion to Christianity. His pursuit of Matilda was a decision made from long thought rather than romantic fancy. Their marriage was filled with difficulty due to John’s antislavery preaching. They were once without a home and under threat as well as estranged from John’s father. Matilda supported her husband’s crusade no matter the difficulty. Their first child was born at her parent’s home after she had traveled twenty-five miles on horseback to get there.

John was offered pastorates in Bracken County if he would only preach religion and not antislavery sentiments. He declined and began to focus more and more on the antislavery movement, founding antislavery churches in Bracken and Lewis Counties while working for the American Missionary Association.

John’s views won the admiration of emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay, who invited Fee to become pastor of several free churches in Madison County. In 1854 Fee settled on ten acres of land Clay had given him in Berea. In 1856 the partnership between Fee and Clay ended when they publicly disagreed at a fourth of July Republican rally on the Fugitive Slave Law, leaving Fee without Clay’s protection. Despite threats from local mobs Fee continued to promote his antislavery views. In December 1859, sixty planters collaborated to drive Fee and his workers out of the state. John Fee’s youngest child, a son named Tappan, died of exposure on their flight from Kentucky. They decided to bury the small boy in Kentucky. When they set out to get a headstone and footstone for their son’s grave, they were met by a mob but were ultimately released so they could attend the grave.

Fee and his family settled in Cincinnati; however, he never gave up his attempts to gain reentry to his home state and complete his vision of creating an integrated, coeducational college in Berea. He eventually raised funds to purchase land in Berea for a college. In 1864 he began missionary work at Camp Nelson, a military camp for black soldiers in Kentucky. There he opened schools, a church, and a refugee camp for the women and children escaping slavery and for the families of the soldiers at Camp Nelson. Many of the people from Camp Nelson later relocated to Fee’s school in Berea to get an education.

In 1866 Fee began his school in Berea, and by 1869 the school became known as Berea College. Until the Day Law, outlawing integrated education in Kentucky, went into effect in 1904, Berea College functioned as the only racially integrated college in the South. Fee continued throughout his life to advocate complete racial equality.  He.
died on January 11, 1901, and was buried in the Berea Cemetery.

John Gregg Fee Links


John Gregg Fee Suggested Reading

Fee, John.  Autobiography of John G. Fee.  Chicago, 1889.

Kleber, John E., editor. The Kentucky Encyclopedia. 2d ed. University Press of Kentucky: Lexington, 1992.

Sears, Richard.  The Day of Small Things:  Abolitionism in the Midst of Slavery.  Lanham, Md., 1986.